Various Artists
In The Right Hands: Chicago Gospel Keyboard Pioneers

Some of the best stuff in Gospel will remain unknown to you, if you don't dare to stray from the big gun labels. Just because it's not in WalMart or BestBuy, doesn't mean that it's not worthy of your attention.

Such is the case with In The Right Hands: Chicago Gospel Keyboards, a lovingly assembled disc that comes from The Sirens Records, a small, Chicago-based label CDreknowned for issuing gems of jazz and blues. On this release, the label brings together some of the finest Gospel piano players that the Windy City has to offer, throws in some legendary vocalists, and comes out with gold.

Fronting the project is the legendary Jessy Dixon, who brings his decades of prominence to the fore with his strident, victory-filled solo piano on "The Wicked Shall Cease From Their Troubling". Contrasting in tones is "Hold On", where Dixon adds his vocals to the keyboard workings. "God Is Standing By", which Dixon wrote for Mahalia Jackson (and was the last song she recorded), also gets a reprise, as does the album closer "He'll Fight My Blues".

In between Dixon's cuts is a fabulous set of material that is worked out by organist Nash Shaffer Jr. and pianist Geraldine Gay with vocals from Pastor Donald Gay (read interview).

Shaffer has toiled for Gospel mainstays including Maceo Woods, and is welcomed back to the scene with his energetically rendered versions of "When The Saints Go Marching In" and a roiling, burbling version of "King Jesus Will Roll All of My Burdens' Away", written by the renowned Kenneth Morris (of Chicago's Martin and Morris Music Company, one of the most reputable and prolific Gospel music publishers of the past century).

The Gay Sisters
CD In 1946, the sisters went to New York and cut their first record, "Just a Little Talk with Jesus" and "The Old Rugged Cross" on the Dauphin record label. They continued to perform and soon caught the attention of Herman Lubinsky, President of Savoy Records, and were signed to the label in 1950. Their Savoy sessions produced such Gospel classics as "Little Wooden Church on a Hill", "God Shall Wipe All Tears Away" and "I'm A Soldier In The Army of The Lord"...

Read Full Tribute (with audio clips)
Geraldine Gay tears the album apart with her fantastically jazzed piano stylings on "God Shall Wipe All Tears Away", where she is accompanied by her brother, Pastor Donald Gay, and nephew Gregory Gay Jr. on vocals. Written by the late Evelyn Gay (Geraldine, Evelyn and Mildred GayThe Famous Gay Sisters —were a Gospel force in the 1940's and 1950's, and together with The Boy Preacher, aka their kid brother Donald Gay, wrecked churches all across the country), this cut is worth the price of admission.

Pastor Gay continues to impress with his work on "That's What I Like About Jesus", another Evelyn Gay composition. Listening to the laid back intensity of Gay's inimitable style laid on top of his sister's rubato key wanderings is pure joy, for there's simply no predictability to it —and yet it remains melodic to its core.

Other cuts to capture are "I've Done My Work" and the Bessie Smith song "I Have A Friend". Both continue the Geraldine Gay and Pastor Donald Gay showcase, providing further evidence of the value of the hidden treasure that Chicago holds. The two work together with obvious delight, challenging each other with jazz runs and flights of melodic diversion.

The instrumental rendition of Herbert Brewster's "How I Got Over", a weave of organ and piano from Geraldine Gay and Nash Shaffer is also superb.

So dare to stray from your worn musical path —you may just find your destination very satisfactory.

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Producer: Steven Dollins
album release date: November 2004
The Sirens Records

— reviewed by Stan North

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